I was planning on having a quietish year this year, and I didn’t take every travel opportunity I was offered for that reason. But I did still go a few places. Some I loved, some I hated, some I barely saw beyond the inside of my hotel room. 

Scotland, Blackpool, Glastonbury & Berkshire

I started the year in Blackpool, which I barely consider travelling because it’s only a three-hour train from where I live. I was there to help my mother move my grandparents from Scotland to Blackpool, and it all got very dramatic. We drove for hours on roads that were barely passable due to snow and ice.

Directly afterwards I came home, dumped my stuff, picked up some different stuff, and went to visit my friends in Glastonbury. I spent a few days there resetting, walking around in the countryside, drinking hot chocolate and trying out the new vegan café.

A few weeks later I took myself on a mini weekend break to Hurley House Hotel in Berkshire, where we later returned for Lia’s hen weekend. It’s a lovely place in the middle of the English countryside and I fully recommend it. Their minibars are well-stocked, their baths are deep, and their restaurant serves wonderful food.

Italy: Modena & Florence

Modena was my first taste of Italy, and I surprised myself by not liking it at all. The cathedral is beautiful, and if you can get out of the city and do a balsamic tour it’s worth it, but it’s not a fun place to spend time.

Florence, on the other hand, was wonderful. The food was amazing, and the house wines that paired with the meals were about a gazillion times better than UK house wines.

The view from my hotel room was beautiful.

My favourite day was when I walked outside of the city and spent a day wandering through woods that smelled of sage, and meeting lizards next to a tranquil river, and generally getting lost in lovely places.

South Carolina

My favourite travel location in the world – although having visited Florence this year it’s now got competition – in 2018 I finally went back to South Carolina.

I was nervous about it because when you fall in love with a place you never know if you’re going to like it when you go back, or if your illusions will be shattered, but I loved it again. There is something about South Carolina that makes me glad to be alive, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. It’s probably a combination of the ocean, the natural beauty of the rivers and parks, and the climate which seems to agree with my body and make it ache less the whole time I’m there.

I spent quite a lot of time chilling out on the beach during the day, but I also loved it at sunrise, and luckily my motel was right next to the ocean so it was easy to leave the room as soon as I woke up and go for a wander along the sand.

I hope I’ll be back there again, probably in 2019, health / life / etc. allowing. Or, as they say in South Carolina, “Good lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Wales

I spent under 24 hours in Cardiff and the surrounding area but it was very pleasant and I’d like to go back. I’m doing a research project with a team at the University of South Wales, which is based in Trefforest, and the campus is very pretty.

Rhode Island

My next international trip was to Providence, RI, and when I told people I was going there most of them reacted by screwing up their noses and going “Really? Why?” So I wasn’t disappointed that I had no time to explore: I’d just be going from the airport to my hotel, then back to the airport once the conference was over.

I managed to find just under an hour before I had to go catch a plane, though, so I went for a wander and discovered that Providence is lovely! Stacked bookshops! Old churches! Pretty architecture! I’d quite like to go back.

New Orleans

…and then I had the opposite experience in New Orleans.

Everything I’d ever heard about the city made me think I’d love it: voodoo practitioners, witchy shops, art galleries, alternative lifestyles. So it came as a huge surprise when I hated it. It is my least favourite place I have ever been, and I’m including in that list places like Slough and Blackpool.

New Orleans had a lot going for it: the food was unusually good for America, the art was amazing, and the history was very interesting. But it has this undercurrent of evil running through it which made me not want to walk down the street for fear of… what? I don’t know. Something bad happening. It was a strange place, and although I hated it part of me almost wants to go back and look into this evil thing further, to see if I can pinpoint it and work out why I felt that way.

However, the architecture was beautiful and the graveyard was cool, and I also enjoyed touring the swamp.

San Antonio

Directly from NOLA I flew to Texas. San Antonio was nice enough but a bit meh, but I was probably not giving it enough of a chance since I’d been freaked out by my NOLA experience and didn’t fancy wandering around alone anywhere. I spent a lot of time sitting in my hotel room writing, which was fun.

I did do a little bit of exploring as well. Unfortunately I didn’t realise there’s a famous bat cave until after I arrived, at which point it was too late to book a bat experience. Next time, perhaps.

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One spire, three views.

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Amsterdam

I’ve been to Amsterdam several times; it’s one of my favourite cities. This time I was there for my friend’s wedding, and we had a lovely time. I didn’t take many pictures because I was only there for a couple of nights, but it was lovely and it reminded me how much I like it as a destination.

And then it was December, and I came home and stayed home, and that’s it for travel this year. Next year’s tentative plans include Olso, South Carolina, Oregon and Texas for work; and possibly a couple of holiday breaks too. But we’ll see where the year takes me, in both literal and metaphorical terms; if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that plans frequently change.

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